Women’s groups call for an end to abortion prosecutions
This guest blog was written for us by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. The National Committee have agreed to support this campaign. The photograph is of Natalie Towers, currently in jail in England for buying medication online to secure an abortion for herself.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, supported by an increasing number of other organisations, including the Royal College of Midwives, Women’s Aid and the Women’s Equality Party, has launched a campaign calling for abortion to be decriminalised throughout the UK. With the imminent passing of the Scotland Bill, powers to legislate on abortion could be devolved to Holyrood as early as June 2016, and the opportunity to put a halt to the unacceptable of treatment of women in already difficult situations must not be passed up.
You would think that by now, women in Scotland would be trusted to make their own decisions about whether and when they are ready to start a family. The right to free, safe abortion care is a prerequisite for women’s full participation in society, but not everyone is aware that they can face prosecution and even a jail term unless they meet strict criteria set out in the 1967 Abortion Act.
Natalie Towers, a 24-year-old mother from County Durham, is currently serving a sentence of two and a half years for accessing perfectly safe abortion medication online. Natalie was 23-years-old at the time and suffering a series of depressive episodes when she acquired the medication and induced a miscarriage during her third trimester. Two women in Belfast, one of them a mother who was acting on behalf of her very young daughter, are also being prosecuted for the same reason and could face life imprisonment if convicted.
The Abortion Act was designed to protect women’s health at a time when the ‘abortion pill’ had not yet been developed, and when the only method of treatment was a surgical procedure that required closer supervision by doctors. Significant clinical progress means that this is no longer the case and now, instead of protecting women’s access to safe treatment, the Act has in many ways become a means of punishing women for having a type of abortion that current law doesn’t even recognise exists. Besides this, women should not be required to have written permission from two doctors in order to make life-changing decisions about their own bodies.
The time has come for politicians in Scotland to acknowledge that this legislation is no longer fit-for-purpose, and that instead of sitting within the criminal framework, abortion needs to be regulated in line with any other healthcare procedure. Scotland has a history of being at the forefront of progressive abortion provision, and prior to the 1967 Abortion Act, medical pioneers in Scotland were already using a liberal interpretation of existing laws to provide woman-centred abortion care. Scottish MP David Steel was also the architect of the 1967 Abortion Act, and worked closely with key practitioners in Scotland to devise the legislation. The We Trust Women campaign urges the Scottish government to lead the way and use devolution to establish a legal framework fit for the 21st century. Please write to your MSP to join us in the call to support women’s reproductive rights and put an end to cruel abortion laws.